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Why I'll never buy a Tesla | Opinion

The Model S was a pioneer when it was originally released many moons ago.

I was a big Tesla fan in the not-too-distant past.

But I will never buy a Tesla, and I would hesitate to recommend one to a friend or reader. Let me explain why (or just head straight to Twitter to start bagging me, whichever your preference) and do so by focusing largely on the issues that impact car buyers - not the questionable business decisions the brand has made (although I will touch on those).

When the Roadster arrived, I acknowledged its flaws but could appreciate its potential. Then the Model S arrived and changed the car industry. That may sound like an overstatement to some, but I genuinely believe that Tesla, and specifically the Model S, is directly responsible for the flood of electric vehicles that have hit showrooms in the last five years and will keep coming for the next few years.

Before the Model S, the wider car industry had largely given up on EVs and certainly didn’t see the true potential for them. Compared to the Model S, the Nissan Leaf and Mitsubishi i-MiEV were very different EVs - with limited range, space and appeal.

Tesla demonstrated that an EV didn’t have to be a quirky, city-sized econo-box. No, an EV could be a luxury, performance vehicle, and indeed it makes more sense like that. It allowed Tesla to build in enough space for more batteries and a greater range, whilst giving customers the sense they were getting better value for money.

The Tesla Model S laid the foundations for the EV as we know it today. 

The problem, and the reason why I’ll never buy one, is Tesla has since been beaten at its own game. While there’s still plenty to like about the American brand, it now faces competition from the likes of Audi, BMW, Porsche, Mercedes-Benz, Volvo, Hyundai, Kia, Mazda, MG and more.

Tesla has tried to build a brand on being different, and that’s fine, but in doing so it has demonstrated why car companies have evolved to operate the way they do.

Tesla likes to show off what’s coming a long time in advance, which is a great way to get people excited. The catch is, you’ve got to deliver on that promise, and Tesla has a long history of delaying launches and leaving fans disappointed.

Take the Model Y for example. It was shown off to the world as a near-production-ready vehicle in March 2019, and now as we approach the three year anniversary of that unveiling would-be Australian owners are still waiting for the Model Y to hit our roads.

In contrast, Hyundai revealed the 45 Concept in September 2019 - almost half a year after the Model Y - and yet the production version of that, the Ioniq 5, is now a regular sight on my weekly commute.

And if you’re waiting for a Tesla Cybertruck, it’s probably safer not to hold your breath.

So, while Tesla has been talking a big game - and delivering in some ways with the Model X, Model 3 and updated Model S - the more established brands have put the foot down.

These more familiar names bring with them more experience in building cars. Tesla built its first car in 2008 (and it was heavily based on an existing Lotus), whereas Mercedes-Benz built its first car back in 1886.

This comes across in the design and build quality of the cars. There are plenty of opinions about this topic on the internet, but I can only speak to my personal experience. Every Tesla I have ever driven (and granted I’ve driven a small percentage of the total global output) has had notable build quality issues - specifically poor panel fit and spotty paint work.

The most notable issue I’ve experienced was with the very large panel gap on a Model X I reviewed, it was the kind of problem you wouldn’t accept on a $15,990 city car, let alone a luxury SUV costing more than $200k.

So, with better options available, why would I buy or recommend a Tesla? 

Why would I buy a Model S? The Porsche Taycan is just as exciting to drive and comes with Porsche’s reputation for reliability and exacting build quality.

It’s worse for the Model X, it faces threats from the likes of the Audi e-tron, Mercedes EQC, BMW iX3 and iX, as well as the Jaguar I-Pace.

The Model 3 has to compete against the likes of the Polestar 2, Hyundai Kona Electric and Hyundai Ioniq.

The Model Y isn’t even in Australia yet and there’s already appealing EVs like the Kia EV6, Hyundai Ioniq 5, Mercedes EQA and Volvo XC40 Recharge that offer a similar package.

Then there’s the models that we expect to come in the near future, like the Ford Mustang Mach-E, Hyundai’s Ioniq 6 and 7, Polestar 3 and 4, as well as battery-powered models from Skoda, Volkswagen, Cupra, Genesis and, heck, even Ferrari and Lamborghini eventually. 

Are all these cars as fast 0-100km/h as the equivalent Tesla? No. Do they have exactly the same range? No. So, if those are your two most important buying factors, maybe a Tesla is for you. But to me, a car should be measured on more than just acceleration and range, it’s about the driving experience, the design and layout, the quality of construction and the aftersales brand experience.

Like I said at the beginning, I was a big fan of the Tesla Model S when it arrived in Australia. But that was back in 2015, and the automotive world has moved on since then. There are so many more choices now, EVs backed up by brands with more experience than Tesla - and it shows on the road.

So, while I’m sure there are plenty of people out there lining up to buy a Tesla, I will be happy to stick to the rest of the choices out there and coming soon - it’s an exciting time to buy an EV. 

And as for Tesla’s ‘autonomous driving’ track record and decision to use owners as beta testers… that’s a whole different story.

Stephen Ottley
Contributing Journalist
Steve has been obsessed with all things automotive for as long as he can remember. Literally, his earliest memory is of a car. Having amassed an enviable Hot Wheels and Matchbox collection as a kid he moved into the world of real cars with an Alfa Romeo Alfasud. Despite that questionable history he carved a successful career for himself, firstly covering motorsport for Auto Action magazine before eventually moving into the automotive publishing world with CarsGuide in 2008. Since then he's worked for every major outlet, having work published in The Sydney Morning Herald, The Age,, Street Machine, V8X and F1 Racing. These days he still loves cars as much as he did as a kid and has an Alfa Romeo Alfasud in the garage (but not the same one as before... that's a long story).
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